Data

Heritage and Identity: Setting up a new Public Archaeology project…

Despite a broken ankle, life goes on. Today I am working on the set-up of a new project I have just started at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, in London, UK, with colleagues Prof. Richard Hingley and Dr. Tom Yarrow from the Archaeology and Anthropology Departments at Durham University.

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Broken but scooter-aided researcher (me) goes to work.

This is a really exciting new adventure, especially in these times of heated debate over what it means to be English, British, European or (as I regard myself) simply (?) a world citizen with roots in all those great and diverse places where you are lucky enough to have family, friends and colleagues.

The project is called ‘Iron Age and Roman Heritages: Exploring ancient identities in modern Britain‘, and is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council for a period of three years. Through this research we are hoping to understand how Iron Age, Roman and Early Medieval pasts live in present-day Britain. How are they researched, variously used, performed and interpreted by different individuals and groups, and why? What are the implications?

The project is divided in two parts which will run in parallel until 2019. One is based at UCL, where I will be focussing on the analysis of digital heritages (Dan Pett, from the British Museum, Andy Bevan and Mark Altaweel, from UCL, are also helping!); the second part, led by Richard and Tom in Durham, is centred on offline ethnography.

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Boadicea at Westmister Bridge, London, England.

During the project, we will also invite whoever might be interested in participating in our research to do so online, through the MicroPasts crowdsourcing website, which is indeed still up, running … and busy! In October, I will visit Daniel Lombrana-Gonzales and his team, in Madrid, and, together, we will create a new crowdsourcing application to aid the analysis of web data. People will be able to login and identify (via tagging) the aspects of Iron Age and Roman pasts that appear in a range of texts that are published online like newspaper or magazine articles, for example.

So, stay on the look, we’d love you to join the team!

Chiara

@Kia_Bon

 

I need some guidance…

…actually, I don’t. I’ve spent a bit of time over the last couple of weeks thinking about what to commit to ‘paper’ for my Day of Archaeology piece but, in the end, the logical thing to write about has been sat in front of me for the last ten days. As a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) my days can be quite diverse. The core of my job involves working on digital archives deposited with ADS from a variety of commercial or research projects. These datasets can range from small ‘report and image’ type archives from small-scale evaluation work through to large, complex datasets from bigger projects. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months working on the datasets from the ACCORD project and we’re just waiting on the final sign-off from the depositors before we can release the archive. The project focussed largely on Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and 3D models from photogrammetry, so lots and lots of images together with some interesting 3D data. For more info see the paper on the project’s methodology in the CAA 2014 Proceedings…and keep an eye out in the next few weeks for the archive!

But what I’ve mostly been focussed on is guidelines. Over the last couple of years I’ve been working on two tasks for the ARIADNE project looking at Good Practice and guidelines within the fourteen ARIADNE partner organisations across Europe. The initial task was to survey guidance and expertise across the partners and to summarise this in a report (available via the ARIADNE website). The results of the survey allowed key areas of expertise (or areas needing guidance) to be identified and to form the basis for the second task, the creation of new guides and contributions to the Guides to Good Practice. I’ve spent much of this week (and last) finalising a report on the work that has been undertaken on the Guides. A guide on dendrochronological data and the TRiDaS data standard has been contributed by DANS in the Netherlands alongside new case studies for dendro data and large datasets (again from DANS and from DAI in Germany). There’s also a guide looking at 3D datasets (ADS with DAI and DANS) in the pipeline along with an RTI guide and a new case study. It’s been great to work with so many European partners on areas of shared interest and benefit, something that I know we all hope can continue despite recent developments in the UK.

Settlements, Shielings & Sunshine: Archaeological Survey at NTS Torridon

Torridon. One of the most dramatic landscapes in the United Kingdom. Driving to it, from the south or the east is an unforgettable journey. Three massive mountains, Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe rise suddenly from the shore of the deep sea loch to over 1000m in height, looming over you and totally dominating the area.

Beinn Alligin & Liathac seen across Upper Loch Torridon.

Beinn Alligin & Liathach seen across Upper Loch Torridon.

The National Trust for Scotland looks after over 6,000ha of land on the north side of Loch Torridon. Along with the plants, animals, birds, footpaths & upland landscape that we manage, there are also a huge amount of archaeological remains. The majority of these are 18th and 19th century settlement and farming remains; there are very little prehistoric remains on the north side of the Loch, but plenty on the southside. Perhaps it is because prehistoric folk settled and used the same land that is still settled and in use today, thus all traces have been removed. You can find out more about the archaeology sites here

In March, I was lucky enough to lead a National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camp where we carried out condition monitoring and survey work across a number of the settlements and shieling sites. This is incredibly useful heritage management work, as it allows us to see the overall picture of change of the archaeological resource & to develop a management plan to deal with all sorts of threats such as bracken & vegetation growth, erosion, burrowing and collapse.

For the condition monitoring I have developed an Android tablet based system which utilises the Open Data Kit to allow us to remotely collect the data, and then submit it to a server when we have an internet connection. Internally, we’ve found the system to be incredibly robust and useful, and much simpler to use and get data back from than paper based systems.

Condition Monitoring at Wester Alligin, Torridon

Condition Monitoring at Wester Alligin, Torridon

In total we monitored 191 sites and structures over 5 days and from this developed a really good understanding of what is affecting the archaeological remains and how.

Condition Data, Torridon

Condition Data, Torridon

I have previously written about the Data Enhancement project I work on at the Trust; the GPS survey work at Torridon has allowed us to enhance our GIS data and polygons, which means we have better and more detailed information when managing our Torridon estate. We now know the exact location and extent of a wide range of structures, dykes and cultivation remains whereas previously we had them as point data or even described as “left of the structure” “below the area of woodland” and so forth.

Surveyed archaeological remains, Wester Alligin, Torridon

Surveyed archaeological remains, Wester Alligin, Torridon

Through doing this work we have also recorded remains that are quite obvious on the ground for for a variety of reasons had never been recorded and utilised aerial imagery from a range of sources to map some of the more ephemeral remains such as cultivation ridges and furrows. I have also been able to compare the remains to the historic Ordnance Survey mapping available from the National Library of Scotland which allows us to (being to) understand when buildings were built, in use and abandoned.

Some of the structures which appear on the above map

Some of the structures which appear on the above map

We also discovered a couple of possible new sites such as a cup marked boulder, which is very exiciting.

I need to thank the volunteers, Danji, Kathy, Joanna, Will, Thomas, Abbie, Barry & Jim who made this work possible and who took to the work with such great enthusiasm and interest.

It wasn't all hard work! Yhe group at the top of the Bealach na Bà.

It wasn’t all hard work! Yhe group at the top of the Bealach na Bà.

 

Heritage Data and the National Trust for Scotland

I am the Archaeological Data Officer for the National Trust for Scotland. We are a conservation charity who own and care for almost 80,000ha of land, making us the third largest landowner in Scotland. Across our land we have over 11,000 heritage sites of which 101 are designated as Scheduled Monuments and 271 are Listed Buildings, we also have the dual World Heritage Site of the St. Kilda Archipelago.

The majority of my workload revolves around our heritage data management, databases and GIS; over the last two years I have polygonised all our heritage sites, and these have associated records linked with the RCAHMS Canmore database. Our GIS also pulls in Ordnance Survey data, including historic maps, survey data created by ourselves or contractors, historic estate plans from our archives, condition monitoring data and so on, all of which helps us to efficiently, and effectively manage the heritage for everyone.

Aside from the data management work, I also have a number of different projects on the go which should enhance the understanding and visibility of the heritage sites to our staff, our members and the public. These range from carrying out detailed surveys of our Scheduled Monuments and other archaeological sites, to developing a system for aiding the monitoring of the condition of our heritage sites, to acquiring and processing LiDAR survey data. One area that I’m increasingly working in is the visualisation of heritage sites, artefacts and architectural details through techniques such as close-range photogrammetry. (more…)

Archiving Ipswich

Two years after posting about my work on the Silbury Hill digital archive, in ‘AN ADS DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY’, and I’m still busy working as a Digital Archivist with the ADS!

For the past few months, I have been working on the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive, deposited by Suffolk County Council, which covers 34 sites, excavated between 1974 and 1990.

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Excavation at St Stephen’s Lane, Ipswich 1987-1988

To give a quick summary of the work so far, the data first needed to be accessioned into our systems which involved all of the usual checks for viruses, removing spaces from file names, sorting the data into 34 separate collections and sifting out duplicates etc.  The archive packages were then created which involved migrating the files to their preservation and dissemination formats and creating file-level metadata using DROID.  The different representations of the files were linked together using object ids in our database and all of the archiving processes were documented before the coverage and location metadata were added to the individual site collections.

Though time consuming, due to the quantity of data, this process was fairly simple as most of the file names were created consistently and contained the site code.  Those that didn’t have descriptive file names could be found in the site database and sorted according to the information there.

The next job was to create the interfaces; again, this was fairly simple for the individual sites as they were made using a template which retrieves the relevant information from our database allowing the pages to be consistent and easily updateable.

The Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive called for a more innovative approach, however, in order to allow the users greater flexibility with regards to searching, so the depositors requested a map interface as well as a way to query information from their core database.  The map interface was the most complex part of the process and involved a steep learning curve for me as it involved applications, software and code that I had not previously used such as JavaScript, OpenLayers, GeoServer and QGIS.  The resulting map allows the user to view the features excavated on the 34 sites and retrieve information such as feature type and period as well as linking through to the project archive for that site.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

So, as to what I’m up to today…

The next, and final step, is to create the page that queries the database.  For the past couple of weeks I have been sorting the data from the core database into a form that will fit into the ADS object tables, cleaning and consolidating period, monument and subject terms and, where possible, matching them to recognised thesauri such as the English Heritage Monument Type Thesaurus.

Today will be a continuation of that process and hopefully, by the end of the day, all of the information required by the query pages will be added to our database tables so that I can begin to build that part of the interface next week.  If all goes to plan, the user should be able to view specific files based on searches by period, monument/feature type, find type, context, site location etc. with more specialist information, such as pottery identification, being available directly from the core database tables which will be available for download in their entirety.  Fingers crossed that it does all go to plan!

So, that’s my Day of Archaeology 2015, keep a look out for ADS announcements regarding the release of the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive sometime over the next few weeks and check out the posts from my ADS colleagues Jo Gilham and Georgie Field!

Etruscan Multitasking

It all started as a field school opportunity in the summer of 2001, and I never thought I’d help run an Etruscan archaeological project for 14 years.  From minion, to trench master, to cataloguer, I found my niche there as manager of materials and inventory for the lab and storerooms, or Magazzino, at the Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project, located in Vescovado di Murlo, near Siena, Italy.  Excavations have taken place continuously since 1966 and is now through the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and directed by Dr. Anthony S. Tuck.

I have since left work at Poggio Civitate to continue my professional career at Sardis in Turkey, but I came back to PC this summer to check in and help out for a bit. What is a day in the life of an archaeological multitasker? Well, the morning starts out with unlocking and airing out the storerooms, checking in with the conservator to see how we should best utilize our student workers, and filling water bottles.  As students arrive and are sent to dry brush ceramics found the day before, I check in with the director to establish priorities for the day, and that may involve cataloguing artifacts that have been cleaned and conserved, looking for comparanda for newly excavated objects, cataloguing objects excavated decades ago but never catalogued, pulling materials for scholarly publication, passing objects along to be photographed or illustrated, making inventory lists, tracking down missing information from the find tags made by trench leaders, restarting the database server if it goes down, flipping through old field diaries to find missing information from the database or to provide our GIS specialist with as much data as possible for mapping old trenches, etc. Let’s say I know where information is, whether physical or electronic, and spend the day either providing it or gathering it.

Of course there are the annoying bits, too…tourists wandering down into the storerooms by mistake, the town handyman needing to move a vehicle, but in order to do so, we need to move tables of pottery fragments, letting the cook know how many people are having lunch, eating lunch in a driveway, moving heavy things, killing bugs, and running supplies up to site when they run out.

But as head of the archive, I get to teach students and learn new things from them, work through issues with dedicated, enthusiastic colleagues, poke through boxes and boxes of nearly 50 years of excavation history for objects 2700 years old, and be a part of something that’s much bigger than myself.

At the end of each day I check in with the trench masters to see their new finds, spread out their pottery to dry, and make sure the conservators get their hands on new sets of projects and problems. Sweep the floors, close and lock up the archive, then march back to down for dinner and sleep before starting all over again.

Indianahannah and the Desk Based Adventure

Name:  Hannah Smith

What do you do?
Currently I’m working on the Historic Land-use Assessment project. HLA is a joint project between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland. It is an analysis of the present landscape, recording the visible traces of past land-use across Scotland, and presenting it as a digital map. My day is spent in front of a computer, working with digital sources in a GIS. This suits me well, I was always a bit of a fair weather archaeologist!

How did you get here?
I studied Archaeology at Glasgow University, and then went on to complete a Masters in Professional Archaeology there as well. As a student, I volunteered as a placement supervisor on the Hungate site in York with York Archaeological Trust. Working with YAT gave me the best crash course in field archaeology I could have asked for. Although I think the biggest thing I took away was that I preferred to work indoors!!

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Dangerously close to that murky water!

I began volunteering as soon as I could, as I knew it would be difficult to find a job in archaeology. I volunteered with Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust after I graduated, helping their HER officer, and with various research projects. I was then really lucky to get an HLF workplace learning bursary in Information Management at RCAHMS in 2011.

What’s your background?
I’ve worked in various posts at RCAHMS since 2011. After completing my bursary in Information Management, I began working with the HLA project, before moving on to a data management role with Project Adair, and then working as Data and Standards officer within the Data and Recording section.

HLA mapping in progess

HLA mapping in progess

Favourite part of your job? 
I’ve enjoyed working on many different projects and in different sections at RCAHMS. It’s allowed me to gain a better understanding of all of the work undertaken by staff here. Also helping to produce our Day of Archaeology posts with staff is always a highlight.

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?
Volunteer as much as you can.

Say yes. Even when you’re in a job, say yes to everything that comes your way.

Keep at it. Jobs are often few and far between, but you’ll be surprised at the range of archaeology jobs out there and the ways you can enter this field as a career.

Wish I hadn't said yes here, too many midges!

Wish I hadn’t said yes here, too many midges!

 

An ADS Day of Archaeology

Here it is, my Day of Archaeology 2013 and after a routine check of my emails and the daily news I’m ready to begin!

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

I am currently approaching the end of a year-long contract as a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service in York on an EH-funded project to prepare the Silbury Hill digital archive for deposition.

For a summary of the project, see the ADS newsletter and for a more in-depth account of my work so far check out my blog from a couple of weeks ago: “The Silbury Hill Archive: the light at the end of the tunnel”

Very briefly, though, my work has involved sifting through the digital data to retain only the information which is useful for the future, discarding duplicates or superfluous data; sorting the archive into a coherent structure and documenting every step of the process.

The data will be deposited with two archives: the images and graphics will go to English Heritage and the more technical data will be deposited with the ADS and as the English Heritage portion of the archive has been completed it is time for the more technical stuff!

So, the plan for today is to continue with the work I have been doing for the past few days: sorting through the Silbury Hill database (created in Microsoft Access).

Originally, I had thought that the database would just need to be documented, but, like the rest of the archive, it seems to have grown fairly organically; though the overall structure seems sound it needs a bit of work to make it as functional as possible and therefore as useful as possible.

The main issue with the database is that there are a fair amount of gaps in the data tables; the database seems to have been set up as a standard template with tables for site photography, contexts, drawings, samples, skeletal remains and artifact data etc.  but some of these tables have not been populated and some are not relevant.  The site photography and drawing records have not been entered for example, meaning that any links from or to these tables would be worthless.  The missing data for the 2007 works are present in the archive, they are just in separate Excel spreadsheets and there are also 2001 data files, these are in simple text format as the information was downloaded as text reports from English Heritage’s old archaeological database DELILAH.  The data has since been exported into Excel, so, again to make the information more accessible, I’m adding the 2001 data to the 2007 database.

My work today, therefore, as it has been for the past couple of days, is to populate the empty database tables with the information from these spreadsheets and text files and resolve any errors or issues that cause the tables to lose their ‘referential integrity’, for example where a context number is referred to in one table but is missing from a linking table.

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

So, this morning I started with the 2001 drawing records. The entering of the data itself was fairly straightforward, just copying and pasting from the Excel spreadsheet into the Access tables, correcting spelling errors as I went.  Some of the fields were controlled vocabulary fields, however, which meant going to the relevant glossary table and entering a new term in order for the site data to be entered as it was in the field.

Once the main drawing table was completed, the linking table needed to be populated; again, this was done fairly simply through cutting and pasting from Excel.

The next step was the most time-consuming: checking the links between the tables, to do this I went to the relationship diagram, clicked on the relevant link and ticked the box marked ‘enforce referential integrity’ this didn’t work which meant that a reference in one table was not matched in the linking table which meant going through the relevant fields and searching for entries that were not correct.  The most common reason for these error messages was that an entry had been mis-typed in one of the tables.

That took me up to lunchtime, so what about the afternoon?  More of the same: starting work on the sample records with the odd break for tea or a walk outside to save my eyes!

As much as the process of updating the database has been fairly routine, it’s an interesting and valuable piece of work for me as it is the first time I’ve ever really delved into the structure of a database and looking at the logic behind its design.  I was fortunate in that I had attended the Database Design and Implementation module taught by Jo Gilham as part of the York University Msc in Archaeological Information Systems which gave me a firm foundation for this work.  Also very helpful was the help provided by Vicky Crosby from English Heritage who created the database and provided a lot of documentation in the first instance.

The next step once the data has been entered will be to remove any blank fields and tables and then to document the database using the ADS’ Guidelines for Depositors and then to move on to the survey data and reports.

I’m looking forward to seeing it all deposited and released to a wider world for, hopefully, extensive re-use and research!